The Washington University baseball team has had its share of struggles this season. After starting this season with a 1-5 record, the team showed its potential in a five-game win streak against non-conference competitors. The team came frustratingly close to a winning record mid-season, but the Bears dropped five games in five days against the Webster Gorloks and Emory Eagles to claim a 9-15 record and a .375 win percentage.
On Wednesday, under the bright lights of Webster’s field, the Bears were unable to retaliate after a problematic first inning, where pitcher Sebastian Guzman let up three runs on two hits. Although the Bears outhit the Gorloks by three runs, they were ultimately unable to convert their hits into productive scoring opportunities, and they left seven runners stranded on base over the course of the game. The Bears slowly tried to battle back over the next eight innings, converting a big lead into a one-run game in the top of the ninth. But unlike last year’s first matchup, there was to be no walk-off home run and no jubilant celebration in the dugout; second baseman Tim Van Kirk grounded out to the second baseman, effectively closing the inning for a 4-3 Webster victory.
Three days later, the Bears were on their home field again against conference competitor Emory University, where the team hoped to avenge their 1-3 UAA record. Yet once again, the Bears failed to measure up against a tough conference opponent.
In the first game, sophomore Clayton Miller pitched the first five innings, letting up six runs in 20 at-bats. The pitching difficulty was compounded as junior Kyle Coates took the mound; while facing eight batters, the junior let up four runs and two homers before retiring to the dugout to closer Hank Weiss. Although Van Kirk and Magnus Dunn both landed four hits, the Bears were unable to respond to effective Emory pitchers during full counts; over the course of the game, nine players were left on base, and WashU ultimately fell 11-5.
Although the Bears netted almost double the hits in the second game, they were again unable to catch up to Emory’s offense. Senior Austin Sachen started on the mound and struck out seven batters; he let up four runs in three innings against an aggressive top of the order for the Eagles. In the first three innings, Emory soared ahead 4-0, and although WashU had a productive fifth inning to take the lead for the first time in Saturday’s play, they were unable to close out the game unscathed. In the last three innings, Emory scored seven runs to take the win 11-6.
Sunday dawned with new opportunities for WashU, but the Bears were swept once again by an unstoppable Eagles team 4-1. Leadoff hitter and second baseman Van Kirk was notably absent in the lineup – the senior was forced to sit out of the game due to food poisoning, leaving the team scrambling to fill the holes he left behind. In the first seven-inning game, the Bears were outhit 2-7; Guzman ate up the majority of the innings, and Coates closed with one inning pitched. The one WashU run was scored by Kaden Bernhard, with Hunter Goldberg awarded the only RBI of the game.
The second game was competitive for the first three innings, with each team scoring two runs each. With senior Matt Lopes on the mound, the Eagles scored five runs in the third inning, and they proceeded to cement their lead with two runs in the sixth inning for a 9-6 win before heading back to Atlanta.
This weekend highlighted two major issues for this team: the ability of their pitching staff to execute in high pressure situations and the inexperience of the team’s underclassmen infielders. The senior pitchers that the team expected to rely on have struggled during the first half of the season, and every senior who pitched this weekend recorded an ERA above 7. “On the mound, we haven’t pitched to our abilities,” Head Coach Pat Bloom said. “We lost a lot from last year there, so we’re just inexperienced and trying to figure it out from last year.”
Sebastian Guzman leads the bullpen in innings pitched, and while the freshmen class have impressed early on, they lack the experience of last year’s pitching staff, who were all familiar with pressure of being a nationally ranked team with a target on their backs. “We’ve got to get them acclimated with knowing that the standards here, regardless of a record right now, are still very high,” Bloom said. “They’re one group that hasn’t tasted what it’s like to be on top, and I want to make sure that we guide their way to sticking with the standards of the program.”
This weekend’s infield looked substantially different as well, with players filling in for first baseman Bo Anderson, who has been absent after contracting a viral infection and Van Kirk. With two of the senior captains missing on Sunday, the underclassmen were forced to step into new roles, and even senior catcher Zac Styka was pushed out of his normal spot, playing first base. “It’s hard not having [Anderson and Van Kirk] in there, ”Bloom said. “It’s not so much their spoken words or their examples as much as their performance-leadership. We just have not been able to replace what we had last year, and I didn’t think we would; we’re just really struggling to find it right now. “
Early on in the season, with the team 1-5 going into its spring break trip, Styka felt that the team had played a lot lower than their potential. “You can only be the team that you are today,” he said. “We also know how hard we work, and how much effort we put in, in the weight room and in the gym and how to field. And I think we know that there are better days ahead. ” Styka’s words still apply for a team that is struggling to put the pieces of its performance together, but Bears have thirteen games to gain more experience before the end of their regular season play. The team faces off against UAA competition at Brandeis and Case Western for the next two weekends before returning home to play Webster on Wednesday, April 27.